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Evaluating President Obama’s Pre-K Plan
posted by: Ruthie | March 15, 2013, 02:48 PM   

Yesterday, AAE staff had the pleasure of attending a forum on President Obama's universal pre-school plan. The discussion was lead by Sara Mead, associate partner at Education Partners and former director of the Early Education Initiative at the New American Foundation, and Grover J "Russ" Whitehurst, director of the Brown Center on Education Policy and the Brookings Institution and former director of the Institute for Education Sciences.

While the two parties agreed on many aspects of universal pre-k, they also had very different opinions on key issues. Both Whitehurst and Mead agreed that pre-k was an essential aspect of a child's education. They maintained that pre-k policies were in desperate need for further accountability, evaluation, and federal involvement. The need for equal access to quality pre-school across the country was also strongly expressed by both panelists.

However, Mead argued there is ample research showing the need for pre-k, while Whitehurst argued that we need to cautiously approach a universal model. Mead adamantly stated, "Countries with less functional government and less financial resources have executed quality pre-school. This is something worth fighting for." Mead continued to cite research showing the potential to close the achievement gap, while Whitehurst argued that "fade out" occurs around third or fourth grade, and cited a lack of strong research regarding the merits of universal pre-k.

Whitehurst stated, "Expecting modest improvements is reasonable but trying to close achievements gaps is unjustified." He continued to cite the lack of information about what exactly is the best environment for a child, citing various methods in Nordic countries.

Mead contended that while the federal government should take a back seat when it comes to K-12, in pre-K programs their role should be to provide the majority of funds, incenting state policy changes and increasing number of providers. Like charter schools, pre-schools should be held to certain standards, and when they fail to meet these standards they should be closed.

Because the details of President Obama's plan are still unknown, Whitehurst and Mead could only speculate as to how the administration planned to offer high quality pre-k. Moving forward, both parties agreed on the need to improve the country's current pre-k program, Head Start, by employing high quality teachers and to offer the middle class quality pre-k options.

Click here to watch the entire discussion.

What do you think about pre-k? Is it a necessary expense?

Comment below.

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